Backbone Trail, Day 3:

Start: Malibu Creek State Park
End: Circle X Ranch
Approximate Distance: 30.8 miles
Approximate Ascent: 6,603 feet
Approximate Time: 12 hours and 40 minutes

At 30 miles, Day 3 was my longest day on the Backbone Trail. While I had regularly walked 16-18 miles a day during my training, I had never walked 30 miles in a day carrying a heavy backpack. To tell the truth, I was a little nervous. I carefully reviewed the my route with Eric, driving to many points along the trail, just in case I needed him to come pick me up. The week before I started my hike, I was explaining the details of my route to my Dad over the phone. He exclaimed:

“You can walk 30 miles easily! I was going 25-30 miles every day when I was hiking around the Mount Everest base camp in the 1970’s. And I was carrying a 60 pound pack!”

This made me laugh, and instantly feel much better. While it was going to be hard, it was definitely going to be possible for me to do it! A couple of days before the hike I decided to look through some of my Dad’s old photos from this period…and it definitely inspired me. (I thought I would share a couple of my favorites here.)

I started off day 3 on the Backbone retracing my steps to the Backbone Trail from the Malibu Creek State Park. I woke up at 5 am because I knew it was going to be a very long day. The start of the day was foggy – which was actually very nice because it kept me nice and cool. At around 6:30 I started in on Section 7 walking the Mesa Peak Motorway from Malibu Canyon Road. The road quickly climbed up out of the fog, and soon I had great views of Castro Peak sitting on top of the clouds as the sun rose…beautiful! While Mesa Peak Motorway has a fair bit of elevation gain in the beginning, it has great views and interesting sandstone formations. I breezed through this section easily and passed on to Section 8 fairly quickly. Section 8 followed the Castro Crest Trail from Corral Canyon Road. I saw a few people out getting their morning exercise and crossed a stream several times. It was mid morning by the time I finished this section, and I had travelled approximately 11 miles. I had a snack, drank some water and checked in with my family.

Section 9 was relatively short, but by this time it was getting to be close to noon and the day was getting hot. There was not much I could do about it though, except stay hydrated and keep on trucking. I made a short stop midway through Section 10 at Zuma Creek to eat my lunch. The sun really started blazing at this point, and it started to wear me down. I tied my bandana around my face to keep myself from getting too exposed and just kept on walking…. When I got to Section 11 I texted my mom to give her a status update on how I was doing. She texted me back saying: “Remember what Thomas the Tank Engine always used to say – I think I can…I think I can…I think I can.” This really made me laugh and lifted my spirits!! I started saying that to myself as I climbed up the switch backs of the Mulholland Trail.

The end of Section 11 took me to the Etz Meloy Motorway, which was the last portion of the Backbone Trail to be completed. It also turns out that the Etz Meloy Motorway is one of the more beautiful portions of the whole trail. I had amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, Malibu, the Channel Islands, Thousand Oaks, and the Valley. I was all by myself at this point – and was filled with so much emotion. I was so happy to have made it so far, a little nervous to be by myself in that remote area, entranced by the beautiful scenery, tired from the 24 miles I had already hiked that day. I almost felt like I was being pulled in half. I wanted to stop and stare at the ocean and the Channel Islands and the rolling green hills of Malibu but I also felt an intense desire to go as quickly as I could to get to my campsite before dusk.

View of Castro Peak from Backbone Trail
Castro Peak

I came down off Etz Meloy Motorway and soldiered onto Section 12. It was around this time that I started to get blisters on my feet. I had been wearing the same socks and shoes for the whole day, and big gushy lumps started to form on the pad of my foot under my toe. I didn’t want to stop to take care of them though, because I still had several miles to go, and I felt an overwhelming urge to get to my campsite as quickly as possible.

Some time after 6 I finally made it to the Circle X Campground – and it was deserted. I called around to the Ranger Station to try to check in with someone, but there was no one there. Oh well, I figured. I had reserved a campsite, and if they had any questions they could come ask me. I set up my tent, ate my food, and took care of my feet right as the sun was setting. I thought I would have a hard time sleeping, since I was a little nervous about being in a remote area…but as soon as I got into my tent I fell asleep.

It rained a little during the night, which woke me up, but I had set my tent on high ground and it didn’t seep through. The sound of the rain was actually quite relaxing.



One thought on “Backbone Trail, Day 3:

  1. Hi Tessa,
    Great in depth look into both the physical and the spiritual. Your Dad’s photos are a treasure-So glad you shared them! I can see your love of nature runs in the family.


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